What Are the Major Steps in the Security Clearance Process?

Some government employment or private contractor positions may require access to national security information. Because of the risk posed to the country if the data is leaked, any individual holding these jobs needs clearance. The process for obtaining the necessary credentials is complex, and the extent of it is typically tied to the applicant’s situation, specifically, the level of security clearance they need.

That said, the major steps in the security clearance process include:

  • Sponsorship and application
  • Background investigation
  • Adjudication
  • Reinvestigation

You must go through each stage regardless of whether you are seeking a government or private contractor position.

If you need legal assistance with the national security clearance process, please call Claery & Hammond, LLP at (877) 362-3176 or contact us online today.

What Is Security Clearance?

Security clearance refers to your eligibility to access classified information. It does not necessarily mean that you will receive such data. Only that you can get it if you need it to do your job.

You may only apply for clearance if some parts of your job require you to handle national security information. However, you cannot pursue the credentials on your own. You must first have applied to a government or private contractor position. Then, the agency you would potentially work with would have to sponsor you.

If it’s deemed you need security clearance, you will go through the following steps.

Step 1: Sponsorship and Application

Sponsorship and application make up the pre-investigation stages of the process. Sponsorship is where the government agency you’ll be performing work for decides it may be necessary for you to access national security information to do your job. The agency’s Security Officer will submit a request to start the investigation.

At the same time, you will be directed to complete the security information documents, which include the Standard Form (SF) 86. The SF86 contains various questions about you and your background. Although it may be uncomfortable or worrisome to provide responses to some of the questions, you must be accurate when filling out your form. Misrepresentations or missing details could delay the process or cause your security clearance to be denied.

Step 2: Background Investigation

After you’ve submitted your SF86, the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency (DCSA) begins your background investigation. This part of the process involves thoroughly examining the information contained in your application form. It includes running criminal history and credit checks.

The extent of the investigation varies and is typically tied to the level of security clearance you need. The higher the level of clearance, the more in-depth the research on you.

Clearance levels are determined by the damage disclosure of the information would have on the nation and include:

  • Confidential: National security would be damaged
  • Secret: National security would be seriously damaged
  • Top secret: Damage to national security would be “exceptionally grave”

Step 3: Adjudication

When the DCSA completes your background investigation, it will forward the results to your sponsoring agency. Based on what was uncovered in the previous stage, your sponsoring agency then decides whether you are eligible for national security clearance.

Overall, the agency is assessing your character and trustworthiness.

It considers various factors together to make a determination, including:

  • Allegiance to the U.S.,
  • Personal conduct,
  • Financial management,
  • Drug and/or alcohol abuse,
  • Criminal conduct, and
  • Psychological/mental health.

If the agency finds that you are eligible for security clearance, it will approve your application. Generally, approval by one federal agency is accepted by others following reciprocity guidelines. Thus, if you change jobs or assignments, you may not need to go through the background investigation or adjudication phases again unless you are up for reinvestigation.

Step 4: Reinvestigation

If you hold a security clearance, it must be periodically renewed. That means going through a reinvestigation.

When you are subject to the reinvestigation depends on your security clearance level:

  • Top Secret: Every 6 years
  • Secret: Every 10 years
  • Confidential: Every 15 years

Reach Out to Claery & Hammond, LLP

The security clearance process can be confusing and stressful. You must ensure that you provide complete and accurate information about yourself and may have to prepare for the background investigation. You do not have to go through the steps alone. An attorney can help complete your forms and explain what to expect at each stage. Additionally, they can assist in pursuing an appeal if your application has been denied.

Our team provides legal representation for national security clearance matters. Speak with us by calling (877) 362-3176 or submitting an online contact form.